Group Chair: Patrick Coté, NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics
From 2007 to 2009, a DWG with representation from academia, government and industry examined the scientific motivations and technical requirements for possible CSA participation in a mission to carry out wide-field, UV-optical-IR imaging from space. The DWG considered a variety of options – from scenarios in which the CSA would lead the mission design, development, fabrication and operation, to a possible collaboration in one of several missions now under development at NASA, ESA and JAXA. The conclusions of the DWG are as follows:
There is an overwhelming scientific need for a high-resolution, wide-field imaging space telescope with an aperture of roughly 1m. Some of the key science drivers for such a facility include characterizing the nature of dark energy (DE) and measuring the equation of state of the universe; mapping the growth of dark matter (DM) structures as a function of cosmic time; observing directly the "gastrophysical" evolution of galaxies from "first light" to the present day; decoding the fossil record of the assembly of baryons within merging DM halos in nearby galaxies; and characterizing the evolution of star formation over cosmic time.
Not surprisingly, the precise choice of wavelength region for any such facility is driven by the highest priority science goals: investigations into the nature of DE and the equation of state of the universe are most efficacious at IR wavelengths, while studies of galaxy evolution since "first light" (i.e., the formation of baryonic structures inside merging DM halos) are best carried out at optical and UV wavelengths. These are among the most pressing open questions in astrophysics, and future progress in both areas will require an imaging space telescope since only in a space environment will it be possible to obtain high angular resolution images with a stable PSF over wide fields (and observe astrophysical sources in the UV spectral region).
Future space missions such as JWST and JDEM have focused almost entirely on the IR region. With the inevitable demise of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers across the world will soon loose the high-resolution UV/optical imaging capabilities that have been so instrumental in transforming the astronomical landscape, as no replacement mission is currently planned by any international space agency. The wavelength region below approx 0.7 micron, where the response of both JWST and JDEM fall to zero, is not only critically important in the study of how galaxies and their constituent stars evolve over cosmic time, but will also prove indispensable in interpreting the observations from DE studies at longer wavelengths.
The DWG believes that there is a compelling opportunity for CSA to seize an international leadership role in space astronomy by capitalizing on the need for high resolution, wide-field, UV/optical space imaging capabilities. This could take the form of either:
(1) A dedicated, diffraction-limited, UV-optical (approx. 0.2 to 0.8 micron) telescope with aperture approx. 1m (i.e., a Canadian Space Telescope = CST), that would offer HST-like resolution but with approx 100X increase in field of view (baseline diameter approx 45 arcmin); or
(2) A UV/optical channel for a targeted IR imager such as JDEM, which is currently planned to operate in the approx 0.7 to 1.7 micron range only.
The DWG advocates a two-tiered strategy to further explore these options. First, given the rapid pace of development for JDEM, which is presently not envisioned as an open user facility, it is recommended that CSA immediately begins a dialog with NASA to explore possible terms for Canadian involvement in JDEM. NASA's initial technical analysis of the JDEM mission requirements identified technical capabilities (including guider systems) developed through the Canadian roles in JWST and FUSE that may be valuable for JDEM; CSA should investigate the possibility of contributing hardware of this kind in exchange for guaranteed Canadian observing time on JDEM, and/or early access to JDEM data, that could be used for both DE, and non-DE, science. Second, a preliminary investigation by the DWG of the technical requirements for a dedicated mission suggests that this is an ambitious but feasible option for CSA – comparable in scope to Radarsat, and thus offering many excellent opportunities for Canadian industries to capitalize on their expertise in optical design and fabrication, guider systems, detector systems, spacecraft attitude control and deployable systems. Therefore, it is recommended that a comprehensive feasibility study for a dedicated 1m class facility, including a detailed cost and risk analysis, be undertaken immediately.
Either route forward-leading a dedicated mission (CST) or participating in JDEM – would fulfill the overarching goals of the Long Range Plan (LRP) for Canadian astronomy released in 2000. As a dedicated 1m-class telescope, CST would be a "flagship" Canadian astronomy mission-likely supplanting Canadarm as the most visible project ever undertaken by CSA – and a prime candidate for inclusion in the national community's next LRP for astronomy. Nearly all aspects of such a mission have long and distinguished histories in the Canadian astronomical community: i.e., wide-field and high-resolution imaging, optical and UV astronomy, structure formation, cosmology and fundamental physics. Such a mission would also have broad appeal to the entire Canadian astronomical community, as it would provide a formidable research tool for virtually all other fields of astrophysics including the outer solar system and Kuiper Belt, near Earth objects, extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs, star formation, Galactic structure, active galaxies, supermassive black holes, and "first light" objects. Finally, by powerfully combining the wide-field and high-resolution features of the HST and CFHT imaging that has been so effective in public outreach programs, such a mission would be an unprecedented opportunity for CSA to play a leading role in communicating the importance of science, technology and research to the public at large.